THE HISTORY OF TEA

Tea is often thought of as being a quintessentially British drink, and we have been drinking it for over 350 years. But in fact the history of tea goes back much further than that.

The story of tea begins in China. According to legend, in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water for him. It was a windy day, and some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. The tree was a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call tea. 

It is impossible to know whether there is any truth in this story. But tea drinking certainly became established in China many centuries before it had even been heard of in the west. Containers for tea have been found in tombs dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) but it was under the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD), that tea became firmly established as the national drink of China. It became such a favourite that during the late eighth century a writer called Lu Yu wrote the first book entirely about tea, the Ch'a Ching, or Tea Classic. It was shortly after this that tea was first introduced to Japan, by Japanese Buddhist monks who had travelled to China to study. Tea drinking has become a vital part of Japanese culture, as seen in the development of the Tea Ceremony, which may be rooted in the rituals described in the Ch'a Ching.

TEA IN EUROPE

It wasn’t until Portuguese traders brought tea to Europe in the 17th century that Europe started its leafy love affair.